Ecological information and approaches needed for risk communication dialogs for acute or chronic environmental crises

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Scientists, social scientists, risk communicators, and many others are often thrust into a crisis situation where they need to interact with a range of stakeholders, including governmental personnel (tribal, U.S. federal, state, local), local residents, and other publics, as well as other scientists and other risk communicators in situations where information is incomplete and evolving. This paper provides: (1) an overall framework for thinking about communication during crises, from acute to chronic, and local to widespread, (2) a template for the types of ecological information needed to address public and environmental concerns, and (3) examples to illustrate how this information will aid risk communicators. The main goal is providing an approach to the knowledge needed by communicators to address the challenges of protecting ecological resources during an environmental crisis, or for an on-going, chronic environmental issue. To understand the risk to these ecological resources, it is important to identify the type of event, whether it is acute or chronic (or some combination of these), what receptors are at risk, and what stressors are involved (natural, biological, chemical, radiological). For ecological resources, the key information a communicator needs for a crisis is whether any of the following are present: threatened or endangered species, species of special concern, species groups of concern (e.g., neotropical bird migrants, breeding frogs in vernal ponds, rare plant assemblages), unique or rare habitats, species of commercial and recreational interest, and species/habitats of especial interest for medicinal, cultural, or religious activities. Communication among stakeholders is complicated with respect to risk to ecological receptors because of differences in trust, credibility, empathy, perceptions, world view valuation of the resources, and in many cases, a history of misinformation, disinformation, or no information. Exposure of salmon spawning in the Columbia River to hexavalent chromium from the Hanford Site is used as an example of communication challenges with different stakeholders, including Native Americans with Tribal Treaty rights to the land.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2408-2420
Number of pages13
JournalRisk Analysis
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Safety, Risk, Reliability and Quality
  • Physiology (medical)


  • eco-cultural
  • eco-receptors
  • environmental justice
  • risk communication


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